I paused at a crossroads. An image of a postcard flashed into my head. A postcard I received from my friend Donal, years and years ago. A black and white image showing two hands barely meeting across a map, with three commandments in red strips overlaid: Admit Nothing. Blame Everyone. Be Bitter.
The Global Seed Vault, located the top of the world, on the island of Spitsbergen in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, is back in the news – for the first time seeds are being taken from the bank for one of the reasons it was created – to supply and safeguard seeds in a time war.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a café in Brussels (where hundreds of refugees are camped in parks, understandably turning down government dormitory accommodation). I’m Irish. I live here, for now. I migrated here, but I’m not a refugee. But look at the history of the Irish diaspora, or that of your own country. Look at how many people in your family or friends are descended from or connected someone who was displaced by war or crushing economic pressures, and think, did any of these people – the Syrians stranded on the beaches of Kos, or arriving in Munich ever dream they would become refugees?
Russia and Norway have signed a joint declaration to protect the Arctic Ocean. Shouldn’t they do the same for the Antarctic? An official statement released on January 23rd by Russia’s Federal Agency for Fisheries, announced that “Russia and Norway will sign a declaration on preventing unregulated fishing in the Arctic Ocean, helping to conserve the Arctic”.
Until the end of the month, the officials from 24 countries – plus the EU – will consider a range of issues, the most notorious of which is the long-delayed establishment of marine reserves in the Ross Sea and in the waters of East Antarctica. I can’t tell you what’s happening at the meeting so far, as CCAMLR meets behind closed doors.
For all the travelling I’ve done, it’s always good to come home. I am writing these words 50m away from the River Slaney, in the south east of Ireland, with a a copy of Crossabeg: The Parish and its People (Vol 2) waiting for me. And I’m honoured to be featured in the book. When my neighbour here, Alice Devine, one of the team who put the book together asked me to write something about my travels, I thought the best way was to show how my upbringing in Crossabeg provided the foundation for everything that followed – including my trips to the Arctic and the Antarctic.
The “irreversible collapse” of glaciers in Antarctica is dominating headlines around the world this week. News outlets are breathlessly reporting that the dramatic rise in sea levels that’s now on the cards. So what does it mean? Should we panic? Do we need to grab the family, and head for the hills?
Here’s an idea. To hell with “sustainably managing” the Arctic Ocean. Instead, how about we just stay out of it and leave it the fuck alone to look after itself, as it was doing before we humans came along and starting burning coal and oil and putting CO2 in the air and seawater?
Three weeks ago, I gave a speech to a room in Brussels. It was, I hoped, a rallying cry; it was at least a rant in support of 30 Greenpeace activists from the Arctic Sunrise, locked up in prisons in or around Murmansk by the Russian authorities for the last 50 days.